In business, a good exit is a good exit – regardless of whether the sale is to a foreign company.
The acquisition of one of the UK’s tech unicorns by China’s Ctrip is another win for the country’s technology industry and the latest signal that investing in UK tech pays off. It’s also a much needed beacon of light amid the Brexit turbulence.
Innovative companies break down national barriers more than any other: a good idea and a product consumers want are as relevant in China as they are in Scotland, where Skyscanner was born.
Critics suggest we should be building our own Google or Facebook (both of which are investing heavily in the UK right now) but some people forget that Silicon Valley came out of a particular set of skills and circumstances. We shouldn’t chase the coat tails of something with a decades-long head start on us.
Instead, we should be doing it our own way. Politicians may express regret when the UK can no longer claim ownership over something born on its shores, but does it matter who ends up owning a company? Listed firms don’t come with a homegrown hallmark while a sale, to a foreign buyer or otherwise, is good for both investors and founders.
Wins like Skyscanner’s go a long way toward building the tech ecosystem, and founders are often serial entrepreneurs. They may only be on their first company, and will often go on to do bigger things. Whether it’s Skyscanner, DeepMind (acquired by Google), Swiftkey (Microsoft) or Magic Pony (Twitter), acquisition is a mark of what UK tech has been working towards – creating a world class industry that’s gaining attention from the top players.
Britain has the talent, the ideas and the right environment and successful exits serve as evidence of this. There is a case that the sector would benefit from more patient capital, and the government is right to look at ways of encouraging it. But it should not lament the buying up of our homegrown stars. Indeed, it should listen to the concerns of the tech sector, particularly around access to talent, and work to ensure more companies can launch, grow and succeed.
Billion-pound acquisitions are something we should wear as a badge of honour, and may well serve as the building blocks of our own Silicon Valley. Sky-high ambition is to be encouraged. Often, it pays off. Just ask Skyscanner.